Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston

Written by Esme Symes-Smith. Published by Labyrinth Road, 2022.


In Wyndebrel, a magical medieval world filled with witches and dragons, all girls are required to learn magic and all boys must train to be knights, with no exceptions to these rules. Twelve-year-old nonbinary Callie has always known that they are not a girl, and  they are not about to let silly gender rules stand in their way. Callie dreams of becoming Papa’s squire and training to become a knight. Fortunately, Callie’s Papa, Sir Nicholas agrees, and he moves with Callie to the small relatively unknown remote town of Eyrewood, where the town folk are more understanding and let people chase their dreams. And so, begins Callie’s training in the art of swords and chivalry.

When Sir Nicholas is ordered to travel to the royal capital of Helston to train the hopeless twelve-year old Crown Prince Will (the King-in-training) who struggles with combat arts, Callie leaps at the opportunity to accompany Papa, and to prove themself worthy as a squire and knight-in-training to Helston’s great and powerful.  

There is only one problem, when Callie and Papa reach the royal capital, the intolerant citizens look at Callie and only see girl. They insist that Callie must move into the royal palace and join the girls of Helston under the Queen’s tutelage to learn everything necessary to become a lady of the court, including dress, etiquette, and magic.  

Trapped in Helston’s rigid hierarchy, Callie discovers others like them – there’s Elowen, the chancellor’s brilliant daughter, whose amazing magical powers are being stifled; there’s Elowen’s twin brother Edwyn, who is locked in a desperate fight to win his father’s approval; and there’s Willow, also known as Prince Will, who was never meant to hold a sword, learn combat arts, and become the future King.

In this start to an epic series packed with action, humor, and heart, Callie and their new friends quickly find themselves embedded in an ancient war, and their only hope in defeating the dragons and witches outside the kingdom lies in first defeating the bigotry and narrow-mindedness within.

This is a fast-paced entertaining middle grade fantasy which emphasizes that bravery is not just in fighting big monsters, but also in tackling smaller, more invisible ones too, like battling prejudice and injustice.  Winning can look like losing or giving in at times, but what matters most is perseverance and survival. This novel also includes positive messages about knowing that you are enough exactly as you are, the power of friendships, and the importance of finding a loving family that you choose for yourself.     

Esme Symes-Smith (they/them) once upon a time, lived in the Southwest of England near Cornwall, and wanted to grow up to be a knight. Because this is modern times, Esme couldn’t train to become a knight, so they decided to become a writer and to write about a magical medieval place that has the same landscape as where they grew up. Now they live with their wife in Missouri, where they work as a preschool teacher in between writing books. Esme has also written a thrilling sequel, Sir Callie and the Dragon’s Roost, which has an expected publication date of November 7, 2023.  

When asked “What do you want kids to take away from this book?” Esme Symes-Smith writes, “I’m excited for kids to understand that there are different kinds of brave and there are different forms that bravery can take. However you’re feeling in the moment, whatever you’re capable of right now, that is enough.  Even if bravery means sitting still and being quiet, that is just as brave as standing up to your enemies and fighting them off.  

Learn more about Esme Symes-Smith and read interviews with the author at

This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans advocate Barb Shumer, who is a past board member and retired public librarian.

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